El fukú y la zafa

Curses are tricky things. They come on in ways you don’t see. They don’t seem like curses until you are in the middle of them. At least the first time around.

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz explores the idea of fukú and zafa. Fukú is a curse brought to the island of Hispañola on slave ships. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in fukú. You can call it the superstition of illiterate captives. You can dismiss it as the ignorant explanation of unscientific folk. But in the end, “No matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.”

Diaz has said of this theme, “For me, though, the real issue in the book is not whether or not one can vanquish the fukú—but whether or not one can even see it. Acknowledge its existence at a collective level. To be a true witness to who we are as a people and to what has happened to us. That is the essential challenge for the Caribbean nations—who, as you pointed out, have been annihilated by history and yet who’ve managed to put themselves together in an amazing way. That’s why I thought the book was somewhat hopeful at the end.”

This pandemic is some next level fukú shit. And I almost got sucked under. Dragged under and smothered and left for dead, a mere desiccated carcass. But I already faced death. Annihilation. And I clawed my way back with every bit of strength I could muster. Because I still had things to accomplish, even if I didn’t know what those were at the time.

This fukú I saw coming. But there was nothing I thought I could do about it except escape. And watch from safety of the desert. Watch the city it took me 20 years to move to fall to its knees. And feel inert. Impotent. Useless.

It worked in little ways. It made me doubt myself and my past actions. And I sat here in Tucson soaked in regret, weighed down by insecurity. At first, I tried to bolster myself with assurances that I had it much better than others. That I at least was safe. But it didn’t matter what I believed, because fukú believed in me.

I came close to giving in a few times. Not suicide. But the idea that things cannot get better. I could feel myself getting weaker. Time slowed down. I was invaded by self-doubt. I felt bad for protecting myself. I questioned that I had the right to demand respect. Or safety. All the things that took me years to understand. And that voice I thought I’d vanquished…the one that said I was undeserving in the first place…well it came back. It’s so quiet in Tucson. The voice didn’t have to yell. It could whisper and still cut me to the marrow.

I think it has power here in the desert, this fukú. Maybe it draws its strength from nature. Starved like everything else here for water, its roots dug deep down into the Arizona caliche to tap into underground pools. It’s tenacious, this fukú. It can sit, seemingly inert for months at a time, allowing you to forget it exists. It waits for you to relax into old habits. And before you know it, it has taken over. Like mistletoe, strangling you until you give up.

But I don’t give up. I know the counterspell to the fukú. And that is the zafa. Zafa is the “one way to prevent disaster from coiling around you, only one surefire counterspell that would keep you and your family safe. In this way, zafa can be read as an undoing of colonialism because as fuku brings misery and bad luck, zafa has the potential to foil it and restore a more favorable balance.”

I once had a zafa marked on my skin. The landscape of Paris. The indelible reminder of who I was in that city. And never to forget what I am capable of.

I figured if the fukú can dig down deep, then so can I. To find the zafa, I had to go back in time two years. To the good. To when my power was strong and unadulterated and I knew right from wrong at 50 paces. I gave myself 24 hours to live in 2018. I went through old texts and FB posts. I listened to the music that I listened to then. And I let it all wash over me. And then Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into Me” on repeat. Who was I? I was a badass. I didn’t let anyone fuck with me. I cut the fat. I got rid of the excess. And anyone who had a problem with my standards could take a fucking hike.

How did I access her? The spell is complicated. I thought about what I wanted most that year. And why I wanted it. And the joy it brought to know that it was in my life. And the way it animated me to get out of bed in the morning. And plan. And travel. And not make excuses. And not ask for permission. Because I knew my worth.

I bathed in it. Marinated in it. Let it invade every pore. And when I was saturated with that power, even my eyes looked different in the mirror. I went from prey to predator. I finally recognized myself again.

Get angry, goddamn it. Someone wants to take what you’ve rightfully claimed for yourself. Are you just going to sit here idly by and watch it be taken? Would she have let that happen? Would 2018 Vene have allowed this?

Fuck no. 2018 Vene had clarity of sight. She wasn’t perfect. But she wasn’t some simpering wimp begging on all fours. It isn’t delusional to think that you deserve something. Not when you’ve proven yourself time and time again. Not when you pointed to the outfield, waited for the perfect pitch, took a swing, connected with the ball in the sweet spot, heard the crack, and fucking hit it out of the park. Not when you reached into the sky and chosen the star you found whose sparkle suited you and plucked it out for your very own. Those weren’t delusions. You have the texts. You have the FB posts. You have the fucking receipts. 2018 Vene was a boss.

And just like that, the fukú relinquished its hold. Frightened by the fire in my eyes, and sensing an opponent skilled in the art of counterspells, it retreated. And here I am. With a slight smile on my face and glowing eyes that let anyone else in my way know that I am not here for the trifling.

I don’t have time. I’ve got too much shit to do.



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